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What, then, is to be our next statement?Athenian
This,—that some matters are to be committed to the courts, while others are not to be so committed, but enacted by the lawgiver.Clinias
What are the matters to be enacted, and what are to be handed over to the law courts for decision?Athenian
It will be best to make the following statement next,— [876b] that in a State where the courts are poor and dumb and decide their cases privily, secreting their own opinions, or (and this is a still more dangerous practice) when they make their decisions not silently but filled with tumult, like theaters, roaring out praise or blame of each speaker in turn,—then the whole State, as a rule, is faced with a difficult situation. To be compelled by some necessity to legislate for law courts of this kind is no happy task; but when one is so compelled, one must commit to them the right of fixing penalties [876c] only in a very few cases, dealing oneself with most cases by express legislation—if indeed one ever legislates at all for a State of that description. On the other hand, in a State where the courts have the best possible constitution, and the prospective judges are well-trained and tested most strictly, there it is right, and most fitting and proper, that we should commit to such judges for decision most of the questions regarding what penalties convicted criminals should suffer or pay. On the present occasion we may well be pardoned [876d] if we refrain from ordaining for them by law the points that are most important and most numerous, which even ill-educated judges could discern, and could assign to each offence the penalty merited by the wrong as suffered and committed; and seeing that the people for whom we are legislating are themselves likely, as we suppose, to become not the least capable of judges of such matters, we must commit most of them to them. None the less, that course which we frequently adopted1 when laying down our former laws, both by word and action— [876e] when we stated an outline and typical cases of punishments, and gave the judges examples, so as to prevent their ever overstepping the bounds of justice,—that course was a perfectly right one then, and now also we ought to adopt it, when we return again at last to the task of legislation. So let our written law concerning wounding run thus—If any man purposing of intent to kill a friendly person—save such as the law sends him against,—wounds him, but is unable to kill him, he that has thus purposed
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